Dagenham Studios

Property future scans from London to Paris via ‘Dagwood’

Propertyshe perspectives: The old high street model is dead, localism on steroids needed, Dagwood is the place to be for film makers, and don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater

Susan Freeman
Susan Freeman

With the latest grim news of retail closures from high street stalwarts such as John Lewis and Boots putting thousands of jobs at risk, the pressure on retail continues to grow.

The demise of the old high street model is something that retail veteran Bill Grimsey has been banging on about for years. However I’m not convinced that we have been listening. Some seven years ago, the first Grimsey Review highlighted the decline of the high street, and the futility of clinging on to a sentimental vision of the past. He urged that the high street had to be re-invented as a community hub, including but not reliant on retail. His recommendations seem to have been largely ignored other than in Roesalare, a town in Belgium, where Grimsey’s recommendations have been whole heartedly embraced to good effect.

Five years later, in 2018, Grimsey Review Two celebrated examples of towns that had started to repurpose their high streets and called on central government to remove barriers to progress. Despite limited take up in the UK he has persevered. With online retail sales rising to 40% during COVID, Grimsey saw that he had to intervene again. His recent COVID supplement, setting out his ‘build back better’ vision calls for the huge acceleration of existing trends brought about by the pandemic to finally bring about an acknowledgement that the old model of the high street is broken and that the new model will require a massive shift in power away from central government to local communities, giving them a stake in their town centres and reinventing town centres as gathering places that are central to community activities.

In an excellent High Streets Task Force webinar, Grimsey explained that this will require a huge shift in power from central government to local communities, putting the people best able to lead that change in charge. ‘Localism on steroids’, as he calls it, needs visionary and commercial town leaders who can come up with ambitious solutions. This will require collaboration between councils, communities and local stakeholders. Clearly this is something in which Business Improvement Districts can play a key role.

Do not think the clone towns of the last century will suffice, he warns, whilst bravely admitting that his generation have been part of the problem and that ‘what you built needs to be unpicked.’ Hopefully his words will finally be heeded and we will see our town centres become reacquainted with their sense of community, purpose and heritage, whilst kicking their addiction to retail.

These trends can also be seen internationally. In Paris, Anne Hidalgo has just been re-elected as mayor on a promise to make the city more people-friendly by removing cars and maximising space for pedestrians and cyclists. Like Grimsey, she recognises that cities of the future will no longer be designed exclusively around the car, nor will they be dependent on retail…

… visit Property Week to read full story

Main image: Made in Dagenham Studios (http://befirst.london/project/made-in-dagenham-studios/)

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